With Israel roiling under unprecedented protests and internal rifts that pit Israelis against each other, NGOs and educational organizations are having to straddle a fine line. Some have been hesitant to take a stand that may risk alienating staff or donors, or invite retaliation from government funders.
Stuck between a rock and a hard place, some organizational leaders have kept their heads down, focused on their day-to-day work, and tried to maintain some semblance of normalcy.
But these are not normal times. As organizational leaders, we now have both the opportunity and the platform to take critical actions that can benefit youth who are the future voters and leaders of Israel.
Benefit future voters and leaders
The rifts ravaging Israeli society today were built into the structure of the state’s educational system at its founding. Israeli education has always consisted of four separate tracks: state-secular, state-religious, independent-religious (haredi), and Arab. Disparities among these tracks have deepened over time; on top of this, the advent of social media has created near-impenetrable echo chambers tailored to our preexisting preferences, thus eliminating viewpoints different from ours.
Here’s what we can do about it.
First, initiate discussions with children, youth, and young adults. When issues are not discussed formally, in a safe space, they take place informally, without the benefit of mediation, accurate information, or a sense of the bigger picture.
The starting point of these discussions should be that we all want the best for Israel, and should attribute good intentions to those from differing backgrounds. We can do this by teaching children active listening skills that develop empathy and sensitivity.
Another action we can take is to sit down with our children and explain to them how social media algorithms show us only what aligns with our preferences, creating an echo chamber that eliminates different viewpoints. Our youth live and breathe digital media culture. Because we are exposed to a self-confirming feed, we don’t know what we don’t know about realities that exist outside of our own.
A third action we can take is to expose children to diverse sectors of society, and encourage them to ask each other questions. By meeting children from different backgrounds they can formulate beliefs based on firsthand experience. Discovering that their own narrative isn’t the only one out there helps them grant legitimacy to narratives which differ from their own.
In the face of Israel’s current threats, Educating for Excellence is one organization that has been taking these kinds of actions in its social mobility work. Now, we are stepping up.
Stepping up to combat disparities
We are providing sensitivity training, and teaching active listening skills to develop empathy in the thousands of children, youth, and young adults we serve from disadvantaged communities throughout Israel.
We are facilitating in-depth relationships among our Jewish, Arab, Ethiopian, and Russian children, while teaching them critical thinking tools to enable them to ask questions and process their experiences. We also encourage them to apply these critical thinking skills when we teach them about civics, the branches of government, and the balance of powers.
We believe these kinds of actions are critical for NGOs, social organizations, and educational institutions that interact with children and can provide a bridge to the stakeholders in our larger ecosystem, like local authorities, government ministries, philanthropists, and the private sector.
Complex challenges require broad responses. We call on all members of our ecosystem to work together to create the collective impact that today’s reality calls for.
We must step up, in our organizations, board rooms, classrooms, and homes. Now is the time to take action to develop a better future for Israel.
The writer is CEO of Educating for Excellence, an NGO that has spent over 20 years reducing socioeconomic disparity in Israel by accompanying youth from disadvantaged communities starting from age eight to 28, throughout their education, army service, college degree and professional employment, supporting their growth into involved, contributing citizens.